‘Writers Choice’ is a monthly segment. Each month a theme will be chosen and the contributors asked to choose a film to mini-review based around said theme. This month’s theme is ‘family’.
Matilda’s parents are skin-crawlingly mean: they forget how old she is, call her by the wrong name, and cruellest of all, hate their daughter reading books. As she grows up, Matilda’s curiosity becomes so insatiable that she spends her days sneaking off to the library, so clever that she develops telekinetic powers, and develops a sense of justice so sharp that she super-glues her dad’s hat to his scalp when she discovers he sells faulty cars. Once six-year-old Matilda persuades her parents to let her go to school, she meets Miss Honey and Miss Trunchball, as different from each other as Matilda is from her parents (conveniently for this concept, Miss Honey happens to be Miss Trunchball’s adoptive daughter). Miss Trunchball is a nightmarish headteacher will a penchant for punishing naughty children by locking them in the “chokey”, hurling them across the playground by their pigtails or forcing them to eat a cake made of “cookey’s spit and blood” in front of the entire school. Miss Honey has turned out remarkably well, considering she is the child of Miss Trunchball; she is a kind and caring teacher who supports and loves the children she teaches, including Matilda. With the help of Miss Honey, Matilda uses her telekinetic powers to change the lives of herself and other children at the school for the better. Matilda is about not fitting your family, but also about the hope that everyone can find a home – whether that’s through books, or kind people. –Molly Kerkham
For me personally, I feel that America’s reputation lies completely with its Road Movies. A rite of passage some may even say, you’ve got Badlands, Thelma and Louise and On The Road but none of these feature a family consisting of a budding beauty queen, a voluntary mute, a motivational speaker and an uncle just out of hospital for a suicide attempt. Mix in a foul mouthed grandpa and a mum who is quite clearly at the end of her tether and you’ve got yourself Little Miss Sunshine. A perfect blend of black comedy, realism and emotional confrontations Little Miss Sunshine wowed crowd’s at 2006’s Sundance Film Festival with its tale of a dysfunctional family’s cross-country road trip to get their daughter to a beauty pageant. Crammed inside a yellow VW Microbus tensions build, personalities bounce off each other and issues within the family unit bubble up to the surface. Without trying to give too much away to those who haven’t seen it, there are some seriously deep issues being dealt with, body image, addiction, self-harm and acceptance to name a few. The brightly coloured yellow packaging and witty one liners (mainly courtesy of Alan Arkins’ character Grandpa) strike a brilliant balance with the subjects at hand and don’t suffocate them too tightly for them to be dismissed.
The dysfunctional nature of the family is eventually tied by a shared goal, Olive, the daughter. In some form of desperate attempt to give her a more pleasant upbringing than they may have had themselves, and prevent any emotional trauma later in life, they band together through various challenges to get her to the pageant, with often hilarious and heart-breaking consequences proving that ‘there’s two kinds of people in this world, there’s winners and there’s losers. Okay, you know what the difference is? Winners don’t give up.’-Chloe
Duff Anderson (Ivan Dixon) is a working-class rail worker who meets and falls in love with schoolteacher Josie (Abbey Lincoln), the daughter of a highly respected preacher in town (Stanley Green) from a middleclass background. We’ve all seen that before – the forbidden relationship between a down-on-his-luck guy and a woman from a well-off family, but that is only the set-up for Nothing But a Man.
While it is a quietly nuanced film, its tension ridden scenes are agonising to watch. It’s not part of the horror genre in the traditional sense, but there is an air of that feeling clouding some of the film, merely for just being a reminder of what the world used to be like only a short while ago.
Judgement is never far off Duff’s doorstep. From the racist white folk that he encounters, to Josie’s father’s criticisms of him (who is also black) because of his status and the trials of finding a job in the midst of a time with no work, Duff, as a young black man living in the ’60s, tries to get by in the best way he can, with a boiling urge to fight back.
Racial segregation serves as a backdrop, but it isn’t the backbone of the film. It’s an example of the period that it was shot in; a decade that saw society’s discrimination challenged by those most oppressed. Duff, putting his all on the line in certain situations, was one of those men.
Instead of being a comment on the civil rights movement, Nothing But a Man is really about Duff and the relationships with those around him – Josie, her dad, and in particular his own father (Julius Harris). Family is the root of the film.
Duff, like his dad, is absent in his son’s life. Growing up with a non-existent father clearly had an effect on Duff and shaped him in more ways than we could see on screen. Through gleaming brief smiles, he was internally fighting against neglectful thoughts and demons of abandonment.
Finding himself at a crossroads, Duff had two decisions: he could either carry on as he had been, as a shadow of his father and echoing his mistakes, or become a better husband and dad to those that needed him the most. I think he made the right decision.
Nothing But a Man is a beautifully captured humane picture of someone trying to find their way in a mixed-up and shitty world, but that’s why it is so relatable. 50 years on and I could see myself identifying in the plights that Duff had. No doubt those who have been lucky enough to watch it have seen themselves in him, too.
One question confused me after watching the film and researching into it, though. Why are we scared to call this “one of the best films ever made” instead of “one of the best black films ever made”? Seriously, what are we so afraid of? –Cherokee
In the late 60’s and 70’s, families were divided between parents and their children. The suburban conformity that adults had worked hard for was everything their children hated. Parents found themselves with ungrateful children who rejected everything they were proud to have. While their children found themselves with parents who kept them from living a life of true happiness.
In “Running on Empty”, Arthur and Annie Pope are on the run after bombing a napalm factory in the 70’s, which paralysed a janitor who wasn’t supposed to be there. Their son Danny was two years old at the time. Now he is in his late teens, and the family (with younger son Harry) are again relocating with new identities.
Danny’s school music teacher notices his piano talent and wants him to audition for Julliard. Danny struggles with his new-found dreams for the future and the life his family has to lead. Annie finds out about the audition and meets with her estranged father help Danny. “There’s some irony in this.” He says. “Here you are, asking me to take Danny into a life that you ran from like a shot out of hell.”
Annie and Arthur realize that by stopping Danny they are becoming the authoritarian parents they rebelled against, and they need to let him go his own way. In an emotional final scene, the family leaves Danny behind while they assume new identities in a new town.
What your parents want for you and what you want for yourself is often very different. Danny’s parents realized he needed his own life, not one made in the fallout of their past actions. By letting Danny follow his heart, they did what their parents had not done for them. Sometimes keeping a family together means letting each other go. –Caroline
The children who live in the group home which Short Term 12 centers around don’t have families, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. They come from broken homes, abusive or neglectful. It’s heartbreaking to watch how this loneliness has affected them, when they shy away from making any sort of emotional connection with the supervisors, or crumble as toys with a sentimental value beyond understanding are cruelly snatched away.
Grace (Brie Larson), a supervisor at the home, doesn’t have a family either. She tells her boyfriend that they’re going to have a baby, but plans on having an abortion, a secret she keeps for breakdowns in the shower. She is still deeply affected by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, and when she discovers the same thing is happening to Jayden, a new arrival that Grace has bonded with, along with the news that her father is getting out of jail, her turmoil boils to the very surface.
Larson is, in no excessive terms, a tour de force. When Grace, armed with a baseball bat, seeks revenge on Jayden’s father and thinly veiled atonement for her own father’s actions, she exerts pure, raw emotion that moved me to tears. Several times. To be honest, I was crying for the majority of this film; it’s gutting and traumatic, but it makes you feel like every one of your pained sobs is necessary. It also makes you realise how in some cases, you’re better off without your family, how it’s better to let go than suffer in silence. Short Term 12 breaks down the taboo of family guiding your morality and loyalty, and instead gives a voice to those who can summon up the strength to survive by themselves. Important, powerful and ultimately uplifting. –Ashley
“The Sugarland Express” is a 1974 action/drama film, directed by Steven Spielberg in his theatrical debut. This film is about parents Lou Jean and Clovis Poplin, and their attempt to stop their son from being taken away from foster parents. The film starts with Lou Jean forcing Clovis to escape his minimum sentence in prison and ends with them on a run-down caravan, with a hostage and a multitude of cop cars and helicopters following them. Despite the darkness of the situation “The Sugarland Express” is light-hearted and endearing, showing the lengths a mother would go to protect her child. The film ends on a rather sad note but the love displayed is universal. “The Sugarland Express” is definitely one of my favourite Spielberg films; it’s entertaining, sweet, and incredibly beautiful to watch. The shots Spielberg creates are almost breathtaking, and to think he’s only capturing the sun-soaked Texas countryside! –Monica
“My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation – we’re all just out here drinking mai-tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they nuts? …Paradise. Paradise can go fuck itself.” And trust me, Matt King would know. When his wife gets in to a terrible motor accident, the Hawaii-based lawyer suddenly finds himself having to become a full-time father to his two daughters, Scottie and Alexandra– and realizes he has no idea how to take care of them. Life doesn’t get any easier when the doctor informs him that his wife won’t be waking up from her coma, ever. And as if this tragedy wasn’t enough, Matt’s rebellious daughter, Alexandra, explains to him that the main reason she has a rough relationship with her mother is because she knew her mother was cheating on him prior to the accident. And thus ensues Matt’s mission, with his eldest daughter Alexandra as his sidekick, to find the mystery man that his wife cheated on him with. The Descendants is a touching, tragic, and sometimes hilarious journey of a broken family who discover what it means to be a real family. –Rena